A new smartphone app developed in Indiana is putting access to more than 1,000 learning resources at users’ fingertips, and it promises to carry the concept into communities across the United States.
(TNS) — A new smartphone app developed in South Bend, Ind., is putting access to more than 1,000 learning resources at your fingertip, and promises to carry the city’s name into communities across the U.S.
On Friday, the St. Joseph County Public Library in partnership with California-based Drucker Institute launched “Bendable,” a lifelong learning system more than two years and about $5 million in the making.
Bendable aims to foster workforce development and learning at any age by organizing online and in-person resources — most of which are free and many of which are local. The platform itself doesn’t do the teaching but rather lets you search choices in a database or browse among collections, all of which should continue to grow, organizers say.
People can sign up at bendable.com, and those without a library card who want to continue using it after 30 days will be directed to sign up for a free card.
“How can libraries not be part of lifelong learning? I think that’s what we are at our core in a lot of ways,” library director Deb Futa said. “This is putting resources together in a really unique way.”
Futa was on board when the Drucker Institute floated the idea of developing the project with the library.
“If you’re just a regular person, it’s hard to know where to turn to learn something. Who do you trust? So one of the roles of Bendable is just to be a great curator of content,” said Rick Wartzman, head of the KH Moon Center for a Functioning Society at the Drucker Institute, part of Claremont Graduate University, near Los Angeles.
He wants to take Bendable to other cities, customizing it to suit each community.
The Drucker Institute works to continue the legacy of social and management theory guru Peter Drucker by assisting nonprofits, government and corporations, and also by facilitating lifelong learning. A few years ago, the institute partnered with the city of South Bend to pilot a public sector employee training course.
Two key Drucker team members live locally. Lawrence Greenspun, Drucker’s director of public sector engagement, brought the public sector training course and later the lifelong learning project here. Lex Dennis, of South Bend, Drucker’s director of lifelong learning, jokes they’re the “Drucker Midwest” unit.
Local ties helped Drucker Institute appreciate South Bend as the “beta city” former mayor Pete Buttigieg saw it as, Wartzman said — “beta” being a description borrowed from tech terminology for a stage of software testing.
He credits Buttigieg with connecting the institute and library for what would become Bendable and lending the endorsement that helped land millions in grant funding from Google and Walmart.
Bendable is a name library staff invented as both a nod to South Bend and the flexibility of the learning system, library communications manager Jennifer Henecke said.
Users set preferences, such as by topic, the time they have available and how they like to learn, she said. Options returned could include articles, free courses, paid courses, or even programs that offer snippets of learning via text message.
Content comes from 18 local and national partners such as edX, Cell-Ed, Study.com, the Khan Academy, Indiana University South Bend, Ivy Tech and South Bend Code School.
Nearly any learner should be able to find something, organizers say, from the kid who needs to sharpen math skills, to the adult who just wants to manage money better, to the executive who’s curious to take a course on Hinduism.
The “community collection” section lets local experts share know-how and their own personal learning resources on topics ranging from first-time investing to home buying to filmmaking, and is an area of the system Dennis imagines will expand.
A culture of lifelong learning boosts “resilience” for a community, an economy and an individual, Dennis said.
One thrust for Bendable is skills training for low-wage workers in need of new or better jobs. Users can explore learning collections for in-demand local jobs in manufacturing, information technology, health care and other sectors. Dennis has worked with businesses to curate content based on local needs.
Kathy Crimmins, director of cultural development for General Stamping and Metalworks in South Bend, thinks Bendable has the potential to fill a skills gap the company sees among incoming workers. She thinks it could be a “great steppingstone” for employees who want to complete their high school equivalency, too.
“It is one of the more exciting things I’ve seen in our community,” Crimmins said.
Access on a smartphone makes it easy for people to learn in small increments that fit their schedule and even take quick assessments to test their understanding, she said, adding, “I think people will be able to take advantage of that.”
Her company offers a computer lab where employees can pursue more intensive online learning.
“The workforce development potential for this in a time when 20% of the people in St. Joseph County are out of work … and the fact that people need to reskill,” Futa said. “Right now, it’s sort of the best possible time to be rolling this out.”
Library and Drucker Institute officials say the coronavirus pandemic has created gaps in computer access for many of the residents they want to reach with Bendable, as those without computers wait for libraries and community centers to reopen.
The pandemic has curtailed many in-person facets of Bendable, too, Wartzman noted, such as job shadowing, joint study sessions and local lectures.
Coronavirus also muted the launch of Bendable, originally set to coincide with festivities for South Bend’s Best Week Ever, which was canceled.
Futa said she’s happy just to roll Bendable out now and hopes people begin to discover and use it.
“I’d love to see it really make a difference for people in the community,” Futa said. “We’re in a helping profession as much as so many others, and we all want to see South Bend grow and succeed.”
©2020 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.